News Column

Groundhog Day's Punxatawney Phil No Rival for High-Tech Weather Forecasting

Feb 2 2013 11:07AM

Korbinian Eisenberger, dpa

Groundhog Day's Punxatawney Phil No Rival for High-Tech Weather Forecasting

Washington (dpa) - Groundhog Day is a fondly held tradition on the US calendar, even if the furry Punxatawney Phil's record of correctly predicting the weather is a bit fuzzy.

Every February 2, the world's most famous groundhog - probably the world's only famous groundhog - makes his "prediction" based on whether he sees his shadow and is frightened back into his den.

When that happens, folklore has it there will be six more weeks of winter weather.

It's a 127-year-old tradition that most Americans learn about as schoolchildren. The 1993 movie Groundhog Day, which made light of the event and annual festival held in Punxatawney, Pennsylvania, gave the event global cache.

Despite his fame, Punxatawney Phil is hardly a reliable forecaster, as the last two years have shown.

In 2011, he wasn't frightened by his shadow and thus predicted an early spring. Shortly thereafter, parts of the country were hit by a heavy snow storm nicknamed the Groundhog Day Blizzard.

He was off track again last year when he predicted a long winter lasting into the middle of March. What ensued was the warmest year on record in the United States.

All this means Phil earns no respect from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - the US weather authority - which relies on more scientific methods for its measurements. His poor record is reason enough for officials there to doubt what others call a living barometer. It's not really a good idea to use the shadow of a groundhog to predict the weather, they say.

Jennifer Carfagno, an on-camera meteorologist for cable broadcaster The Weather Channel, feels no rivalry with Phil, though she has been to Punxatawney twice.

"Whenever I was there, he was wrong anyway," Carfagno told dpa.

The official Groundhog Day website tells the story more thoroughly: Phil has been right only 39 per cent of the time.

"It doesn't matter at all," Carfangno said. "Phil doesn't always get it right."

This year, Groundhog Day fell on a Saturday, allowing even more coverage of the event than usual. The Weather Channel broadcast a special programme lasting several hours, and Carfagno covered it as if the pope were making the weather prediction.

The Weather Channel hopes ratings will show that millions of Americans tuned in - the kind of numbers the station only achieves during major weather events, such as hurricanes.

The Pennsylvania town expected some 20,000 visitors and journalists, which would more than quadruple its population.

With a glance at the long-range forecast, Carfangno suggested that Phil should predict an early spring.

"That way," she said, "he could improve his record."

Shortly before sunrise, Bill Deely, president of the ground hog association, arrived dressed in a 19th-century cloak and top hat and awoke the sleeping rodent to the cheers of the crowd.

In the bitter cold and under overcast skies, Phil emerged from his burrow and failed to see his shadow, meaning spring should be right around the corner.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters